Dealing with its one and only two-day turnaround in the Southeastern Conference season is taking a backseat as the most pressing issue for Georgia heading into tonight’s game against South Carolina.
The question that persists surrounds why Georgia keeps collapsing in the second half.
The latest came in a 71-62 loss to Florida on Thursday night, a game the Bulldogs led by as many as 11 points in the first half and by seven at halftime.
“I think that we’ve got to have a better mental endurance,” coach Mark Fox said Friday. “I think our ability to concentrate and be assignment-sound for 40 minutes is not where it needs to be.”
Georgia has held halftime leads in each of its past six games, but went 3-3 in that stretch with losses to Xavier, Vanderbilt and Florida.
That has kept the Bulldogs (18-9, 7-6 SEC) on unstable ground for an NCAA tournament at-large berth. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi on Friday had Georgia, now with a No. 41 RPI, as one of the last four in his projected bracket.
The Bulldogs allowed 10 offensive rebounds in the second half of games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt to allow those teams to rally.
The Gamecocks trailed 28-9 at halftime and by as many as 23 points two weeks ago before the Bulldogs won 60-56 in Columbia. The Commodores saw a six-point halftime deficit grow to 14 before coming back for a 64-56 win.
“It’s been very frustrating,” Georgia center Chris Barnes said prior to the Tennessee game. “As soon as we get a big lead, we get kind of lackadaisical at times and don’t put on the defensive pressure. We have to put two halves together if we want to win games.”
Defense has been the main issue the past two games.
Tennessee shot 57.1 percent in the second half of a Bulldogs’ 69-63 victory and Florida shot 53.6 percent Thursday night. The Gators also outrebounded Georgia in the second half 19-15.
“We just haven’t defended and rebounded as well,” Fox said. “(Thursday) the first 10 minutes of the second half we couldn’t get a stop, couldn’t force a miss. There’s been times when we haven’t rebounded as well in the second half. It’s something we have to correct.”
Georgia has been outscored in the second half by an average of 10 points in the past six games.
“We’ve got to stay mentally attached to what we’re doing for a longer period of time,” Fox said.
The Bulldogs are third in the SEC and 40th nationally in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 40 percent on the season, but in the last six games, opponents have shot 49.1 percent in the second half.
“We’ve got to get a little bit more help out of our bench, but I don’t think we were physically tired at all,” Fox said.
Georgia is one of only two SEC teams to have four starters averaging more than 30 minutes per game. The other is Mississippi State.
“We’ll continue to work to get better, and I think this team will continue to improve,” Fox said. “I don’t think we’re at all where we consider ourselves a finished product.”
At least Georgia won’t have long to dwell on Thursday night’s loss at Florida.
Georgia won its only previous quick turnaround in SEC play under Fox, beating Florida at home last year 78-76 after losing in overtime 96-94 at Vanderbilt.
“It’s quick,” Fox said. “We will approach it like we did a year ago, but it’s a quick turnaround no question.”
South Carolina at Georgia
► WHEN: 7 p.m. today.
► WHERE: Stegeman Coliseum
► TV/RADIO: FSSO/960-AM.
► RECORDS: South Carolina (14-12, 5-8 SEC); Georgia (18-9, 7-6)
► PROBABLE STARTERS: South Carolina – F Damontre Harris (Fr., 6-9, 214, 3.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg); F Malik Cooke (RJr., 6-6, 213, 9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Sam Muldrow (Sr., 6-9, 229, 11.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg); G Brian Richardson (Fr., 6-4, 164, 6.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg); G Bruce Ellington (Fr., 5-9, 197, 13.3 ppg, 3.4 apg). Georgia – F Travis Leslie (Jr., 6-4, 205, 14.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg); F Trey Thompkins (Jr., 6-10, 240, 16.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg); C Jeremy Price (Sr., 6-8, 264, 9.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Dustin Ware (Jr., 5-11, 182, 8.1 ppg, 3.8 apg); G Gerald Robinson (Jr., 6-1, 180, 12.8 ppg, 3.9 apg).
► SERIES: Georgia leads 48-47. The Bulldogs hold a 28-15 advantage in Athens.
► LAST MEETING: Georgia built a 28-9 halftime lead in Columbia on Feb. 12 and then held on for a 60-56 win. Thompkins blocked an Ellington 3-point attempt to preserve the win. Thompkins led with 16 points and nine rebounds.
► SEASON AT A GLANCE: Georgia missed out on a chance to solidify its NCAA tournament chances Thursday at Florida when the Gators came back to win 71-62. The Bulldogs probably can’t afford a stumble against the Gamecocks, who occupy last place in the SEC East. Georgia is tied with Kentucky and Tennessee for third in the division. South Carolina snapped a five-game losing streak with a 79-73 home win against Ole Miss on Tuesday night behind 23 from Muldrow. The Gamecocks lost its last road game, 90-59, at Kentucky a week ago.
n NOTEWORTHY: Georgia’s final three regular-season opponents are all outside the top 50 of the RPI: No. 107 South Carolina, No. 194 LSU and No. 66 Alabama. The Bulldogs have no losses against teams from outside the top 50 … Georgia will put 500 student tickets on sale at 5 p.m. today. Reserved seats are sold out. … South Carolina is 3-7 on the road this year. Georgia is 3-3 in SEC home games … The Bulldogs continue to lead the SEC in assists per game at 15.7. …The Gamecocks are fourth in the nation in blocks with 6.3 per game. Muldrow is fourth in the nation and tops in the SEC with 3.4 per game. …Gamecocks forward Lakeem Jackson is expected to return after missing the last three games with a sore left foot.